Spare Rib: Whatever happened to sisterhood?

Younger women will be denied knowledge of what Spare Rib stood for

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How many feminists does it take to relaunch a magazine? None, it seems. I was excited when I heard that the radical feminist magazine Spare Rib was going to be relaunched with the respected journalist Charlotte Raven at the helm. Not just as a magazine, either, but also as a “campaigning grassroots movement”, which presumably means a website and digital media, etc, all impossible back in the 1970s when Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe had their big idea.

Raven had contacted Boycott and Rowe, who were “entirely supportive” (Boycott) and “very positive” (Rowe), writes Raven. But the sisterhood is not a many-splendoured thing of female encouragement. It tends to be a horrid bitch-fest. And when she found out that the name Spare Rib was untrademarked, Raven should have acted. Because on 3 June, 20 years after its closure, Marsha Rowe decided to trademark it.

Raven (who, inter alia, suffers from the incurable neurological disorder Huntington’s disease, and has spoken movingly about how the relaunch was helping her look forward in a positive way) claims she was sent a letter by Rowe’s lawyers threatening legal action if she used the name Spare Rib.

According to a statement from Raven, widely circulated on Twitter, what really stuck in Rowe’s (and presumably Boycott’s) craw was the “grassroots movement” character of 21st-century Rib. Well boo-hoo. So nobody was online back in the medieval era of the 1970s. So what? Rowe and Boycott have, it seems, dumped their support in favour of legal threats which would, if carried out, squander the financial resources of the new magazine.

In their defence, they said they were seeking answers about the business plan. “We wanted to know how it was going to be funded,” Boycott has said. Rowe claims the trademark is a red herring as they owned the public lending rights, and had been told that any attempt to use the name without permission would be treated as “passing off”. “Women gave blood sweat and tears for that [name]” Rowe said.

Raven has since decided to abandon the relaunch, and will simply start a feminist magazine/movement with a new name. Does this matter? Not really. It means a generation of younger women won’t know about Spare Rib and what it was. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Perhaps a phoney notion of “the sisterhood” needs to be replaced by a more general encouragement of working women who are already beset by issues such as lower pay rates and anxieties about ageism and parenting. Who don’t necessarily feel themselves as politicised, and feel uneasy about calling themselves a feminist, but would just like to get on, in equal terms. I don’t know Charlotte Raven, but I wish her luck in her new venture. Anyone who has a good idea for a new title should contact her on sparerib.nationbuilder.com/makingachange.

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